It wasn't just depth, but veteran depth that got the B.C. Lions through a difficult situation Saturday.
And if a spate of injuries extends into next weekend, when the CFL's regular season concludes, then B.C.'s depth will again be critical to winning the West Division.
The Lions (10-7) defeated the Edmonton Eskimos 29-20 at B.C. Place Stadium Saturday, a victory that moved them into first place in the West by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Eskimos (10-7) had a chance to lock up the division, and play host to the divisional final, but will now have to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday and hope the Lions fall to the Montreal Alouettes one day later.
But while the Lions control their own playoff destiny, their ranks continue to be depleted by a poorly timed run of injuries. B.C. lost defensive end Keron Williams, who will likely be the team's nominee for the CFL's most outstanding defensive player, to a right ankle injury in the first half against Edmonton.
With Brent Johnson missing the game for the birth of a child, and snapping his streak of 184 consecutive games, the Leos ran out of defensive ends by halftime. That forced linebackers Anton McKenzie and Adam Bighill to play out of position at end, and they were getting rave reviews from their teammates for doing a professional job under trying circumstances.
A barefoot Williams emerged from the locker room and joined the on-field celebration, high-fiving and hugging his teammates.
"My guys came in and stepped up for me," Williams said.
Bighill, who was tabbed for duty because he knew the position's responsibilities, had played rush linebacker as a freshman in college, but had no experience as an every-down defensive end. Neither did McKenzie, though he occasionally rushes off the edge.
"We didn't want to disappoint [Williams]" McKenzie said. "I had fun, but he better get back."
But McKenzie, a six-year veteran, and Bighill weren't alone in saving B.C.'s bacon. The Lions entered the game with 14 regulars who were either sidelined with ailments, or playing through pain.
Running back Andrew Harris had but two carries and was used in a limited fashion. That allowed 34-year-old former starter Jamal Robertson to produce 87 yards from scrimmage, including a 35-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
At receiver, Akeem Foster missed the game with a knee injury, but his absence paved the way for Paris Jackson's resurrection. The former all-star had his role dramatically reduced this season, but Jackson caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Travis Lulay in the first quarter. It was just his fourth catch of the year, and his first touchdown.
"We willed that one to happen," Lulay said of the victory. "I think veteran depth was the key … [Robertson and Jackson]are not the type of guys you have to babysit."
"You can't give up on vets," the 31-year-old Jackson added. "We may not be the fastest like when we were younger, but we know how to make plays."
Besides Williams, Johnson and Foster, the Lions played without defensive tackle Aaron Hunt, linebacker Anthony Reddick, running back/return specialist Tim Brown, and running back Jamall Lee. Should Williams be forced to miss next week, the Lions will turn to former starter Rajon Henley, who began the year as a starter before succumbing to back surgery.